The real dirt on germs
It’s actually a good thing
Walk into any baby or toddler product store nowadays and you’ll be greeted by an overwhelming amount of anti-bacterial, sterilisation or keep-it-clean items, which can feel a little intimidating. There’s much to be said about letting kids loose to play in the mud or fiddle with their food. In terms of tactile learning and exploratory play, letting children play with a variety of textures and roll around in the grass is an important developmental activity. But where do we strike the balance between learning and keeping babies healthy?
The dirt on germs
A recent research study conducted by the Division of Allergy and Immunology at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Centre in the US found that “newborns exposed to household germs, pet and rodent dander and roach allergens during their first year of life appear to have lower risk of developing asthma and allergies. The findings are consistent with the so-called hygiene hypothesis, which states that children who grow up in too-clean environments may develop hypersensitive immune systems that make them prone to allergies.”
This is great news for parents who’ve lost sleep over muddy hands and sticky messes, but becomes a tricky dilemma when babies get moving, as a mobile kid
is more likely to get dirty and encounter things around them that their parents may not want them to touch.
Your baby’s exposure
“Always clean and sterilise your baby’s dummies and all feeding equipment by means of boiling, chemicals, or steam until babies are, at the very least, six months old. After this, it is adequate to wash and clean them with soap or water or in the dishwasher,” says Glynnis Cox, a specialist physician and mom of two.
Many parents seem to have been led to believe that a turn in the dishwasher is the same as using a sterilisation method. Not true, says Glynnis: “Information is contradictory, but I would not recommend using a dishwasher in place of sterilising before six months.” And as for the allure of antibacterial soaps and the wide range of apparently sanitising products you might find in store? Think again.
rather wash their hands with regular soap and water “Antibacterial soaps are no more effective than conventional soap and water,” says Glynnis. “Triclosan (found in antibacterial soaps) has been found to cause problems such as increased allergies and hay fever and interfering with various hormones in animals resulting in infertility, artificially advanced early puberty, obesity and cancer. These same effects haven’t yet been found in humans, but the FDA (in the US) calls the animal studies ‘a concern’ and notes that, given the minimal benefits of long term Triclosan use, it’s likely not worth the risk. Parents and children should rather wash their hands with regular soap and water for 30 seconds.”
So, parents, let’s relax the rules a little and let our precious little people roll in the mud for a while or let them explore in the dust for a bit. Don’t be too afraid of your kids getting dirty but don’t let them put just about everything in their mouths either! A little common sense, a dash of soap and all will be well. Yb